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The Chanukah Story

In 168 BCE, the Jewish people lived in Israel...
Mattathias’ Followers (bible engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld in Die Bibel in Bildern)
At that time, the Greek king Antiochus IV ruled over Israel. The Temple stood proudly in Jerusalem, and the Jews served God faithfully, although there were a few unfaithful Jews who thought it was better to look and behave as the Greeks did. They adopted the Greek way of life in the way they dressed and in the cuisine they enjoyed; they even prayed and bowed to Greek idols.

Antiochus was a very wicked king. He did not want the Jewish people to be able to practice Judaism, and he made life for the Jews very difficult. He tried to make the Jews become more like the Greeks, and he made Jewish practice illegal. Circumcision, the study of Jewish scripture and the observance of eating kosher food were outlawed. He commanded his army to punish Jews who continued to worship only one God and who studied Torah. He forced Jews to bow down to Greek idols and eat foods that were not kosher. In Jerusalem, the soldiers destroyed the Holy Temple by erecting idols, letting pigs run wild and burning Torah scrolls.

Judas Maccabee (bible engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld in Die Bibel in Bildern)
Later that year, a Greek officer led a group of soldiers to the village of Modin, near Jerusalem. There they erected an idol of a Greek god. The officer asked Mattathias, a well-respected leader of the Jewish community, to bow down to the idol as an example for other Jews. When Mattathias refused, another Jewish man bowed down to the idol. Mattathias was enraged and took a spear and killed both the Jewish man and the Greek officer. Mattathias and his five sons ran to the hills of Judah along with all of the other Jews who wanted to fight against the Greek army for the right to practice Judaism. Even though the Jewish people did not have an organized army — and were very few in number compared to the very large and advanced Greek army — they were so passionate about remaining Jewish that they would do anything possible to fight for their freedom.

Mattathias became the leader of the Jewish rebellion. However, he was very old, and he passed away before the fight was over. He left his middle son, Judah, in charge of the Jewish fighters. Judah was such a brave fighter that he became known as “Judah the Maccabee,” the Hebrew word for “hammer.” After three long years of fighting, the Jewish people defeated the well-trained Greek army. It was a miracle!

After the fighting was over, Judah and his army of Jews traveled to Jerusalem to clean and purify the Temple that was nearly destroyed by the Greek army. On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE, exactly three years since the fighting started, Judah and his followers rededicated the Temple to God. The word “Chanukah” means “dedication,” and that’s where we get the name of this holiday!

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